Jerome Zeman, 87, witness to bombing of Pearl Harbor

January 17, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jerome Zeman, a retired Navy printer who was a witness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, died Sunday of a stroke at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 87 and lived in North Baltimore.

He joined the Navy in 1926 and was serving as a fleet printer aboard the battleship USS California, a pre-World War II dreadnought, when it was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

"He was at home in his apartment, eating breakfast with his wife, when he heard gunfire and thought that perhaps there were maneuvers taking place," recalled his sister, Louise Taborsky of Baltimore.

"He looked out of the window and saw what was happening and realized that this wasn't an ordinary military exercise and rushed down to his ship," she said.

The California was torpedoed by enemy planes, and 53 lives were lost. The battleship was flooded and sunk by the crew to save the magazines from exploding.

"He succeeded in getting on the ship and swam back to the shore through water that was ablaze with oil as the ship went down. He spent the night ashore in the sand under the pilings of a house to be near the ship," Mrs. Taborsky said.

Her husband, Emil, said, "It was such an experience for him that he seldom talked about it and never wished to return to Pearl Harbor and never did."

Mr. Zeman, who as fleet printer was responsible for the fleet's stationery and other printed matter, was wounded in 1942 and reassigned to shore duty at naval installations in San Francisco, San Diego and Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the 1930s, he was stationed in Shanghai and witnessed the Japanese invasion of China. His photographs of Japanese ships and installations were valuable for intelligence purposes in the early days of World War II.

His decorations included the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Yangtze Patrol Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one star, the American Defense Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

He retired in 1956 with the rank of chief petty officer, then sold printing machinery for John H. Burke & Co. Inc., a local firm from which he retired in 1973.

Born and raised in East Baltimore, he was one of eight children of Bohemian immigrants. He was educated in city schools and learned the printing trade in an uncle's shop, the New Idea Press on Patterson Park Avenue.

He married Loretta Murphy in 1940. She died in 1988.

A very religious man, Mr. Zeman had installed and dedicated in 1993 two stained-glass windows in his wife's memory at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in her hometown of Witless Bay, Newfoundland.

He loved animals, enjoyed photography and was a member of the Czech Heritage Club.

He was a communicant of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5500 York Road, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

Other survivors include a brother, Edward Zeman of Temple Hills; and another sister, Elsie Miskimon of Perry Hall.

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